Can Manchester United hold on to a top four spot?
Given how prestigious and accomplished a football club Manchester United are, any season that they are unable to make the top four and secure a Champions League place is deemed a failure. That was the case last campaign as the Red Devils finished sixth in the table, 35 points adrift of eventual champions and cross-city rivals Manchester City and a disappointing 13 points shy of the fourth-placed Tottenham Hotspur.
As a result of their poor 2021/22, the club decided to bring in then Ajax manager Erik ten Hag, who had experienced great success with the Dutch club that included three consecutive Eredivisie titles. The appointment has largely been a success, with the 53-year-old’s mid-game adjustments and willingness to make brave decisions lauded by football fans and pundits alike.
He displayed that brave decision-making throughout his time managing global superstar Cristiano Ronaldo. The Portuguese phenom wasn’t playing up to his traditionally exemplary standards, forcing ten Hag’s hand to contemplate benching him. Given Ronaldo’s commercial value to the club, that’s a very tough call to make – but it was one he chose to make for the betterment of the team long-term.
Most people who follow the Premier League knows what happened next. Clearly disgruntled, Ronaldo gave a controversial tell-all interview with TalkTV’s Piers Morgan without notifying the executives at Man Utd, where the then 37-year-old aired his grievances about the poor facilities, culture and ownership that he believed existed at the famed club. As a result, Ronaldo became too big a problem to continue at United – and it wasn’t long before he left to play in the Saudi Arabia top-flight.
A controversy as large as that could sink any manager, particularly one in his first season in the job. However, ten Hag has proven why he came to England with such a great reputation – as United have a Carabao Cup triumph to their name and are currently sitting in fourth position in the table with just three games remaining in the season (at the time of writing).
However, they have an in-form Liverpool side who have won six straight nipping at their heels. In spite of that, United are still favoured over their rivals to secure a Champions League spot when looking at the top 4 odds. Marcus Rashford and company are currently garnering odds of 1/4, while Jurgen Klopp’s men are at 7/4.
That’s in large part due to the fact that United are a point ahead with a game in hand – coupled with the fact that they have a manageable run home. With their three remaining games coming against Bournemouth, Chelsea and Fulham – all of whom are 10th or lower in the table – United should have enough to hold on to a top four finish come the end of May.
However, the Premier League is a wildly unpredictable league. Therefore, United cannot afford to become complacent – because if they are – there’s an incredibly capable Liverpool side who has more than enough talent and grit to steal their Champions League berth from under them.
Nevertheless, whatever ends up happening over the next few weeks, the battle for third and fourth is shaping up to be an extremely interesting one.